Tom Watson survived erratic form off the tee to retain a three stroke lead in the third round of the US Senior Open at Whistling Straits, as Scot Sam Torrance made up ground to lie just four back.
Watson, the eight-time Major winner, despite missing eight fairways out of 14, fired a one over par 73 in difficult, blustery conditions. He signed off with a par four at the last after getting up and down from spongy rough short of the green to post a seven under total of 209.
"The back nine was a struggle, but I made a couple of birdies, saved a couple of pars from awkward places and I was grateful to be in the lead," said the 57 year old. "It was definitely a test. This is what I wanted, and this is what I got. And fortunately I struggled through with a one over par round."
Chasing his first victory at an event where he has finished second three times in the last five years, Watson piled up four bogeys and three birdies to maintain control going into Sunday's final round.
His playing partner Loren Roberts, who had been one off the pace with two holes to play, was alone in second place at four under after also carding a 73.
Torrance, The 2002 European Ryder Cup Captain and two-time European Seniors Tour Number One, returned a 71 to lie a further stroke back in third, level with American John Ross (70) and Argentina's Vicente Fernandez (74).
Argentine Eduardo Romero, who leads this year's European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, and US Senior PGA Championship winner Denis Watson of Zimbabwe are among those still in the hunt on two under par 214.
"Unless [Tom Watson] was going to run away with it, we were all going to get back into it with a half-decent day," said Torrance.
Unfortunately that was not the case for Des Smyth. Having started the day tied for second place, the Irishman plummented down the leaderboard following a 78 and sits on one over par with compatriot Mark McNulty.
Watson, whose glittering career includes victories at the Senior Open Championship in 2003 and 2005, began the day shakily by mixing four bogeys with a lone birdie to reach the turn in three over 39.
He partially recovered with a birdie at the par four tenth and picked up another shot at the 535 yard 16th to stretch his lead to one over putting magician Roberts.
Although Watson narrowly missed a birdie attempt from eight feet at the par three 17th, he benefited from a two shot swing when Roberts double bogeyed the hole after his tee shot buried the ball in the greenside bunker.
A battling par at the last left Watson in good shape for the final round.
"If I play a good round tomorrow, I should win the tournament," he said. "Unless somebody really goes out and shoots a no-brainer, which can happen on this Tour. It happens all the time."